Versatile Tiburon 14-year-old pens write stuff on Judaism

Fourteen-year-old Cherina Eisenberg has already achieved recognition as a musician, a dancer and a published poet, presenting a poem to Elie Wiesel based on his work "Night."

Last month, the Tiburon teen received another honor. Named one of 10 finalists in the fifth annual Kaplun Essay Contest, she received a $750 prize. Her essay titled "Why Is Being Jewish Worth All the Effort?" was chosen out of thousands of entries from Canada and the United States. Her sister, Avlana, 19, was a contest winner three years ago.

When the contest's topic was initially proposed, Eisenberg found herself a bit distressed. Judaism has always been such an integral part of her life that she doesn't view Jewish practice as an effort.

"It comes naturally to me," she said in a phone interview from Michigan's Interlochen National Arts Camp, which she has attended for four years, winning awards in music, ballet and drama.

"Being Jewish gives me a place in my ancestral history," she writes in her essay, "a purpose for my existence."

Eisenberg, who observes kashrut, has assisted in leading musaf services since the age of 5. In her essay, she describes rituals and observances that may seem restrictive to some, but remain beneficial to her, enhancing her life.

"Shabbat," she writes, "is a weekly reminder that God created the world and that our power over it is limited." Succoth, another favorite holiday, "teaches us the important lesson that shelter is not permanent."

She uses powerful imagery and phrasing in her depiction of the most sacred day of the year, Yom Kippur. After fasting, she describes "a holiness descending" upon her and envisions herself as an "angel in a white dress singing `Aveinu Malkanu,' as if floating upward in the sky to God."

A native of Shreveport, La., Eisenberg has been living in Tiburon since 1991 and is home-schooled. She is the daughter of concert violinist Zina Schiff and Dr. Ronald Eisenberg, chairman of radiology at Oakland's Highland Hospital.

Active in religious and community events for as long as she can remember, she celebrated her bat mitzvah at Congregation Tifereth Israel in San Diego, where most of her relatives live. She attends services weekly at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

In addition to her commitment to Judaism, she is also a pianist, a published poet and a dedicated violinist, practicing six days a week. At the age of 9, she was chosen for the role of child violinist in the La Jolla Playhouse production of Chekhov's "The Three Sisters." She recently recorded the piano accompaniment for two selections on the soon-to-be-released CD "King David's Lyre," featuring her mother.

Of all her accomplishments, Eisenberg most prizes the opportunity to meet Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Wiesel. After reading "Night," she composed a poem inspired by his work that was published in the San Diego edition of the Southern California Jewish newspaper, Heritage.

Traveling to San Diego with an editor who was a friend of the family, she sat in on an interview with Wiesel, asking him a pivotal question:

"How, after everything that happened, after everything you have been through — how could you still believe in God?"

Wiesel responded: "What else can you believe?" He regretfully stated that this was the only response he could conjure up.

The young poet was delighted and said it was the best response she could have asked for.